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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
May 30, 2023

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In Our View: Passage of Affordable Housing Fund is a good start

The Columbian

By approving Proposition 3 on Tuesday’s ballot, Vancouver residents have put a great deal of trust in city leaders. It is up to those leaders to ensure that the community’s financial commitment is put to good use.

Voters approved an extension and expansion of the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, viewing it as an effective tool in reducing homelessness in our community. A property tax levy will raise $100 million over 10 years to build and preserve affordable housing and to support services that aid unhoused people.

It was a big request by the city councilors who placed the measure on the ballot, one that will cost 30 cents a year per $1,000 in assessed value; the current levy, which is expiring this year, is 18 cents per $1,000 in value. The increase amounts to an extra $60 a year on a house with an assessed value of $500,000.

Three items in particular stand out about the passage of Proposition 3.

One is that approval of the measure is a statement of priorities. Residents recognize the importance of addressing the impact that homelessness is having on our community. Unsightly and unsanitary encampments have diminished the quality of life for all Vancouver residents and generated empathy for those in unacceptable conditions.

This is not unique to Vancouver; homelessness has become more visible throughout Clark County and in other urban areas. But we can deal most effectively with crises close to home, and Vancouver voters have elected to do that.

A second notable aspect is that voters endorsed the city’s approach to homelessness. The expiring housing levy was designed to raise $42 million over seven years, and city officials have distributed $35.8 million of that. The levy has funded the development or preservation of 1,061 affordable units and 450 shelter beds and has assisted 1,409 needy households through local nonprofits.

Opponents of Proposition 3 argued that, despite the current fund, homelessness had increased. That is demonstrably true, but it is a misguided analysis; the question is not whether homelessness has been reduced, but how severe it would be without the levy. Voters wisely saw through the fallacy put forth by dissenters.

Finally, there is the fact that fewer than 19,000 voters decided to increase taxes on all property owners in a city of approximately 190,000. This is not to criticize those who supported the measure; it is to chastise eligible voters who did not fill out a ballot. If you have not registered to vote or did not return your ballot, we urge you to keep complaints about property taxes to yourself.

Moving forward, Vancouver leaders should view the vote as affirmation that they are on the right track in a difficult quest to increase affordable housing. But work remains.

We encourage the city council to be cautious about providing tax breaks to developers for including “affordable” units in the projects. Too often, the notion of what is affordable for needy people is stretched beyond recognition.

We also urge city officials to see that policies and laws are followed in removing encampments when legally permissible. Voters have indicated that cleaning up the city is a priority, and that will require adequate shelters and Safe Stay Communities.

Perhaps most important, the city council must remain transparent about where the affordable housing levy is going and the impact it is making while listening to the concerns of residents.

Passage of Proposition 3 was an important step in addressing homelessness in Vancouver. But now comes the difficult part.